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Monday, September 24, 2007
Traveling with Travel Books
These little guys will be moving on soon, leaving Northport's harbor for warmer waters.
"What are you taking to read?"
That's a question that comes up in our household when bags are being packed. It matters to each of us what the other is taking, since reading aloud (usually at bedtime, occasionally in the car or on the beach or wherever) is part of what we do on a trip. On the recent getaway to Mackinac Island and the U.P., it turned out, purely by coincidence, that both of us had brought books about (1) travel (2) in Eastern Europe and Greece (3) in the 1930s. What are the odds?
BETWEEN THE WOODS AND THE WATER, by Anglo-Irish Patrick Leigh Fermor, is the second volume of his foot travels from Holland to Constantinople. My friend Kathie introduced me to this wonderful book. (Actually, she loaned me the copy I'm taking so long to return to her. Thanks, Kathie, and sorry!) This second part of his trip begins in the town of Esztergom on the Danube, and he hurries from there into Hungary as a spring dusk falls. Before we left home on our own very brief (but totally delightful) trip, I read to David, by kerosene lamp (a storm had knocked out our power), the third chapter, in which Fermor rides a borrowed horse across the Great Hungarian Plain from Budapest to Gyoma. Here are a few lines from that chapter:
"These long un-desert-like stretches have left a memory of dew and new grass and Malek's hoofs trotting through woods and flowers while the climbing sun showed so clearly through leaves and petals and grass-blades that they seemed alight. The woods flickered with red-starts and wheatears, newly arrived after amazing journeys, their giveaway rumps darting through the tree-trunks among birds with their nests already built, and in the open, crested larks flew up from the grass at our approach and sang as though they were suspended about the sky on threads. There was not a single way in which life could be improved."
I love that last simple sentence. I also love the way Fermor refers to himself and Malek, his mount, as "we," e.g., "We stopped and ate in the shade...."
Picking this book up again on the island, a chapter or two further in, I read: "Wherever horses and mares with their foals moved loose about the grass, a few ragged tents were sure to be pitched. Everything in these reedy windings was inert and hushed under a sleepy spell of growth and untroubled plenty." What a lovely scene to imagine from our rented room in a small island motel, next door to a stable! When I paused in my reading, we could hear the shifting feet of horses in their stalls as they settled down for the night.
(My friend Laurie wants me to say here that readers who enjoy Fermor's travels may also appreciate Jean Auel's CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR series, set in the same part of the world but in prehistoric times.)
David's book for the trip, from which he read to me the following evening, was Henry Miller's THE COLOSSUS AT MAROUSSI. Miller's enthusiasm was a match for Fermor's, and as enthusiastic travelers ourselves we were well served by these books. And so we moved through time as well as through space, backwards as well as forwards, through fall and spring at the same time, simultaneously enjoying Michigan, Hungary (or Greece, depending on which of us was reading), our life a many-layered, rich and moveable feast.